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Community aggression caused CCP staff to "buckle under pressure"

Thu 07 Jul 2011 6:53am GMT / 2:53am EDT / 11:53pm PDT
OnlineDevelopment

CEO Pétursson says antagonistic feedback is "the nature of the beast" for EVE Online

Staff at Icelandic developer CCP have become adversely affected by the aggression of the collective EVE Online community, according to CEO Hilmar Veigar Pétursson, although he had nothing but praise for individual players.

Speaking following revolt and frustration by players enraged by leaked documents and the latest Incarna update, Pétursson said anger at individual members of his team is misdirected, and affects the mindset of the entire business.

"People at CCP who have been in the business of relating to EVE subscribers have developed a hard skin because the player base can be very quite aggressive," Pétursson told GamesIndustry.biz in an exclusive interview published today.

"I have seen people buckle under the pressure of talking to them as a group. To clam up and not be as open as they were prior to that. And really that's the nature of the beast."

I've never met a player who has been anything less than a stellar example of nice things, but when they come together they can be quite antagonistic

Hilmar Veigar Pétursson, CCP

An internal document leaked following the release of Incarna implied CCP saw EVE as a "golden goose", upsetting fans who have invested hours of time in the sandbox game. Pétursson said the document itself was taken out of context, and the company never takes the players for granted when they themselves create so much of the value and content for the game.

"It's not something that we refer to EVE or the player base as internally. It was in the newsletter to make a point. And that's all it is, it's not emblematic of internal dialogue.

"The newsletter that's out there is an internal tool for discussion and debate, where people take very polarised views and write in a debating fashion, conflicting their own views, just to debate points. That's been taken as literal memos on behalf of the company when it's something entirely different," he said.

The EVE community responded with anger and in-game protests, and last week Pétursson told the audience at Games Horizon that bullets and baseball bats had been sent to the offices in Iceland. But he maintains that when the players are not acting as a mob, they are some of the most valuable fans a developer could wish for.

"I don't think I've ever, in the eight years I've been doing this, met an EVE player in person that wasn't fantastically enthusiastic about what we're doing. And it's been like a wonderful experience every single time," he said.

"I've never met an EVE player who has been anything less than a stellar example of nice things, but when they come together they can be quite antagonistic. Which is fine, I'm in the job of having that thrown at me and that's perfectly fine.

"But when they are singling out individual employees of CCP that are doing their job, that's when it gets a little too much. There have been people that are being singled out by the player base as the root of all evil when in fact they are just debating a point. I would just recommend they turn their attention to the people who hold responsibility of answering to them, whether it's me or a senior producer."

The full interview with Pétursson, where he discusses the reasoning behind adding micro-transactions to a subscription game, the fallout from Incarna and evolution of EVE Online, can be read here.

17 Comments

Greg Meurders Venture Capital Consultant

13 0 0.0
I must apologise, but after seeing the events unfold, the messaging and the impact and handling of events I am not able to take Hilmar's word for this. At this point I have to question whether he is simply going by word of mouth or by factual narrative.

As a game which has as basis players making an emotional connection not with their pixels but with the experience and the path towards the other person behind the pixels, strong emotions should not come as a surprise. It is something that has been witnessed from players, but also from staff. In the positive, and in the negative. We can still remember how the "terrorists" tune came down from CCP on the previous Council of Stellar Management. Among many, many other such events.

What I find most unnerving is the theme of downplaying the newsletter.

"We have communicated our intention here internally in very wide circles through the Virtual Economy Summit at the GSM, our Fearless newsletter, sprint reviews, email lists and multiple other channels. This should not come as a surprise to anyone".
CCP Hilmar, in an internal communication. One in terrible conflict with statements made following the events and the attempts to damage control this towards the public.

I normally would not comment as strongly as this, but by now I am starting to be more sympathetic to the members of that Council of Stellar Management, with their comments of "where's the truth, you need at least one common truth, for people to trust you". I'd add to that, the question of what lies at the heart of economics? Trust. CCP consistantly showing its disdain for its customers on portals like Facebook, and at the bars of Reykjavik, it should not come as a surprise that at some point that does bleed through to customers.

If indeed someone sent bullets or baseball bats to Iceland, show them. I cannot believe it, and judging by the forums a lot of people are having a really hard time even considering that notion. Furthermore, considering the precedents, I just cannot believe what Hilmar says. This not from a customer viewpoint, but simply as a human. If indeed it is the case, then there are idiots among the human race, that should not come as a surprise. But it saddens me more, that I just can't take the word as word any more.

Posted:3 years ago

#1

Jonathan Parker CEO & Founder

1 0 0.0
Eve is a rough heated enviroment and has always been very political, however this doesnt consitute threats of violence towards people that are only working for the betterment of the community. Im sure some of those hot heads would soon button up if they were told they risk loosing their accounts or recieving a suspension for such behaviour towards staff.

Although I stopped playing Eve to continue my studies I still keep an eye on things from time to time, So keep up the good work CCP and dont let a few bad eggs ruin what you have all accomplished.

Regards

J

Posted:3 years ago

#2

Greg Meurders Venture Capital Consultant

13 0 0.0
I just read this article again. The EVE product (or service, which would be more accurate) does not have 400.000 customers. I noticed the same statements during E3, where they raised eyebrows, but either the company is counting accounts sold as individual customers, or there is some very strange business intelligence metrics in place.

What intruiges me as well is the push of focus in these events on prices and such being the culprit and the leaks being the catalyst. I respect CCP as a company, and yes due to product design they do have to cater to a relatively mature and well versed audience which is not easy since it is all tied to utilising emotion. But it is really starting to sound as if the internal messaging is nothing more than repetitive propaganda, rather than a healthy communicative and collaborative process which CCP has always claimed to be proud of.

The delivery of this recent expansion, was an emberassment. Worse, it has in detail been seen coming for half a year with regard to this current state of "Incarna". The issues are that of quality, which was in shambles, to the point of damaging hardware and causing even staff to wonder on Facebook about this release.

One thing really stood out in all these events, and that was a comment one the EVE forums by a player referencing a speech from CCP's chairman of the board of directors. Referring to CCP's company values (fearless, transparancy, etc) with the strong benchmark question of "when put to the test, is it empty talk or not".

Considering the position of luxury CCP finds itself in with the EVE product, that speech (I did look it up, but don't have the URL handy at this point, but Google is quite easy should it be of interest to people) and the manner in which CCP has presented itself and its deliveries versus the state of its communications and deliverables, it pains me to even ask myself the question of whether it is indeed not just empty talk these days.

I find this current situation incredibly painful, and as an analyst I must admit that each year sofar following with a larger confrontation with more excess (in what Eurogamer calls the conflict between "CCP may own the game, but the customers own the community, and what Massively calls the "synergy that grew EVE suffering under self affirmative messaging") is just not good for the brand we know as CCP. There comes a point, where the absence of trust by customers bleeds through to other levels. I sincerely hope that CCP draws correct lessons from these events, revisits its values, and revisits its customers. Without strong values, and without customers, where are we? In any industry.

Posted:3 years ago

#3

Greg Meurders Venture Capital Consultant

13 0 0.0
@ Johnatan. I understand your perspective, and I do sympathise with it. But from an external viewpoint I cannot help but putting the timeline together and questioning the factuality of CCP's reception of events, and its current path. It is their company, these are their decisions, but it is taking place in an open arena not just restricted to that in which CCP and its customers coexist.

Sofar the only argument CCP has brought to the table for the microtransactions course is that of experience base using EVE for Dust 514 and World of Darkness, with the motivation of "everyone else is doing it. This for a product which has a unique and strong base as well as commercial potential without falling prey to the age old debate of "polishing versus features". I had expected more of a company like CCP, to be innovative, to be different, to be as they have aimed to become. At this point, I cannot help to keep thinking of Thorsteinsson's words in that speech. CCP as a company taking a golden goose through radical change without so much as a risk assesment and management plan is just not good business. We experiment, a lot, in this industry, but we should not gamble with that on which or whos shoulders we stand.

That is not a matter of morality, but one of business. As I said, I really hope CCP has learned more here than just the lesson of having to be more diplomatically communicative. And that they do not like the previous time fall back to the same tendencies of looking only at each other and simply reaffirming messaging which has demonstrably been not just false, but also damaging to reputation as well as business.

Posted:3 years ago

#4
From a business standpoint, there is no reason to change the existing bedrock of it's business I.e subscription.

Unlike TF2 or WOW, those that do enjoy EVE are probably more fiercely tribal and a free to play micro transaction service may be seen a vastly dilute experience, in addition to the many years spent within it's confines, it's much like changing a well known cook. Peoples tastes don't change once they like something, so in that sense, there is no innovation in changing it's business practise.

To expand it's services, it mkes more sense to offer micro transaction on items that do not give a competitive edge. And in all other services, can choose to allow for different packages to suit different people tastes.

It is similar to coca cola changing it main product taste only to find the American public uprising and saying which idiot ruined their childhood memories just from a simple experience as drinking a cola. Similarly, there is no reason to change. Let them experiment on other games instead but leave EVE experience undiluted.

Posted:3 years ago

#5

Lesley Harrison Editor, Myth Games

7 0 0.0
I've been an EVE player since beta, and I'd just like to say that Dr. Wong is right about the players being tribal. There's already an "us vs them" between the newbies and the "BitterVets" that have been playing more than a few years.

As a player, I was (and still am) against PLEX, let alone any other "pay money for stuff in game" transaction. I know CCP are running a business, and I know that other games have done very well by moving away from subscription and doing MT/F2P, but as a player I wish they didn't have to do that.

I'll leave it at that before I start ranting :)

Posted:3 years ago

#6

Tony Johns

520 12 0.0
I may not be one to understand much of what has gone on.

But I would like to say this.

Some of us have been gaming for a long time, and some of us are only just new to gaming

Some of us are 2D gamers and some of us are 3D gamers

Some of us play on our couches and some of us play on our chairs at a computer screen

Some of us play online and some of us play offline

Some of us love Japanese games and some of us love Western games.

Some of us are core gamers and some of us are casual gamers.

But no matter what type of gamer we are, we just need to learn to treat eachother with love and respect no matter how our differences are.

And we also must respect those who work hard on making the games that we play, because without them then we would not have anything to play.

That is about all I need to say.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Tony Johns on 7th July 2011 5:11pm

Posted:3 years ago

#7

Greg Meurders Venture Capital Consultant

13 0 0.0
Tony, that is a double edged knife.

In regards to EVE, it did start out that way. Even during that absolutely terrible first year of EVE, what you are describing was there. And it was mutual.

Do not make the mistake in thinking that those customers are angry with the developers, far from, because they interact with them and realise the interdependancies between them and developers, and vice versa.

But to paraphrase a very common comment, the beef is with a select part of the company, a part which is largely responsible for creating a direction and doctrine where style must reign over substance. But where in other areas of this industry you see research and analysis on such very common challenges, CCP as a company just chooses for style. Without even much consideration, not even for sales and its dependancies.

There comes a point, where the statements of the company become too far seperated from the deliverables by the company. At that point, any company should be careful. CCP put it to the test, and lost the belief and trust of its customers while winning the maneuvering room to take the road of microtransactions.

I hope for their sake that this was worth it.

Posted:3 years ago

#8

Derek Smart Software Developer/Engineer, 3000AD, Inc

31 4 0.1
What is happening over at Eve is simple: they got cocky. And they're going to pay a very expensive price for it. Especially considering that in the very - very - near future, competitors are going to continue chipping away at their install base. It is already happening and so this half-baked MT push in Incarna is just the beginning of the long road to the end.



Posted:3 years ago

#9

Bonnie Patterson Freelance Narrative Designer

182 514 2.8
My mother always used to say "Eavesdroppers hear no good of themselves." This isn't the first time that Eve players have gone off on one over something that never happened and was never going to happen. It goes over the line when they start applying the kind of metagaming they use *in* the game to the company that runs the game.

Posted:3 years ago

#10

Greg Meurders Venture Capital Consultant

13 0 0.0
Bonnie, unless you have been living under a rock, it has been all too easy to watch these events come into place and unfold for the past 6 months now.

It's a simple case of a company overstretching and ignoring signs of it, resulting in an enormous distance between their statements and their deliverables. Yes, CCP's customers have reacted often with emotion, but I can't say that this is any surprise (considering the functional principles of the product) nor a shock considering how CCP's customers have observed CCP's own statements and sentiments concerning customers over time.

I don't often agree with him, but there is one of the more argumentative and analytical of the players who did make an interesting observation. CCP is as much part of the emergant dynamic as its customers, and it is so by original design. The triangle between CCP, Customers and Service is just filled with interdependancies. What you call metagaming, is inherent to all sides and parts in too many ways to count.

Your mother was right, but life as an individual is something other than life as a business.

Look, it is pretty simple. And easy to look up and verify with a little effort. As a company CCP went on a road saying different things to different parties, and on several occasions even misrepresenting different parties involved. Even from the sideline, it did not come as a surprise that this would blow up again.

I don't like saying this, because I respect what CCP has done in creating EVE Online, but they have nobody to blame but themselves. Two major conflicts, avoidable crises, in less than half of a business cycle. I am sorry, but that is simply not good business. It's even worse, because customers and media could see the pieces come together for yet another costly affair, months in advance. For a company in this industry, with this kind of product, there are serious questions to raise regarding people, processes and purposes.

Posted:3 years ago

#11
Rome....

Posted:3 years ago

#12

Phil Johnson Design Graduate

3 0 0.0
It was very tempting at first to chalk the whole thing up to mob rule, which is what I was doing to begin with.

The thing is that I managed to get together and discuss things with some fellow EVE players over beers in London on the 2nd of July, and what's clear is that people do have what they'd call grievances over this that appear to be more than just getting whipped up into a frenzy by the crowd. In several hours of conversation I wasn't confronted with a single point of view that I agreed with, but I was disconcerted by just how strongly negative many of them felt, even in that much calmer and more rational environment.

The only difference between pub and forum was that, pleasingly, in the pub my dissenting arguments were actually listened to and thought on, whereas online they'd undoubtedly have been met with responses along the lines of "LOL CCP FANBOI" or some inane "First they came for X and I didn't speak up..." quote. Even if we didn't agree, at least we were having an honest-to-God discussion.

I've played EVE for five and a half years solid to date, I think I can reasonably claim to be as emotionally invested in the game as the next man. But the most I personally feel is "well, that's not how I'd have done it." I'd have set the prices for vanity items lower, I'd have delayed the expansion release until there was a bit more of it and it had gone through a few more rounds of QA. It's alarming how, even in a chilled-out conversation, people still express quite amazing levels of anger and frustration with CCP.

I don't think that anger is deserved. I certainly don't think it's right to level that kind of abuse at some specific people. Whatever CCP's errors may have been with Incarna and with handling the tsunami that followed, the community must shoulder the greatest part of the blame for all the negative energy that's been flowing around in the last couple of weeks. CCP may have tied the rope but the players were still the ones who set out to lynch them.

I can completely understand how people might "buckle under pressure" in that circumstance. The situation CCP were in was, frankly, deeply unfair. I don't agree with Greg Meurders that CCP "have nobody to blame but themselves". That sounds to me like a case of blaming the victim. If somebody has a cheap lock on their house, no burglar alarm, no insurance, and left the curtains open and a sign by the door saying "on vacation until [date] please leave mail next door" then yes, they've not exactly taken sensible precautions, but it's the guy who walked off with their television who's actually committed a crime.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Phil Johnson on 8th July 2011 1:47am

Posted:3 years ago

#13

Greg Meurders Venture Capital Consultant

13 0 0.0
It doesn't really matter whether anger is deserved, though I can understand how frustration might build up in light of created anticipations and deliveries not matching or even contradicting those. What matters is that the reactions on either side are completely in line with the fundamental design. But, what also matters is that going into extremes is never a good thing, regardless of what "side" anyone is on. And extremes we've seen from all parties involved - which is something that does pain me since I personally cannot see the reasons to take matters and responses into the extreme.

@ Phil, I do think that in any other scenario I would agree with the analogy you use and your general observation. But in these circumstances I cannot. When a company tells you one thing, tells your consumer representatives another thing, and turns out to have been engaged in something yet entirely different, yes that does cause frustrations. Beyond the usual challenge point of expectation management.

CCP has handled this situation and the events & road leading to it quite badly. I can't put that any other way. They made clear they had no plans for microtransactions, then they showed up with plans for microtransactions, then it would be vanity items only, and then they didn't have a working definition set of types of microtransaction related items / services. Followed by a few unfortunate events of CSM having moments of "wait a minute CCP & Customers, that is not what we told CCP or signed off on", followed by a series of damn unfortunate badly communicative attemps by CCP.

Could they have avoided it? Yes. Could they have approached the topic more constructively and less with a sense of disdain towards the customer (with the angle of approach of experimenting - once again - with what they called the golden goose)? Yes.

I do not agree with the conspiracy theorists claiming that CCP has willfully created these events (what company would aim to remove its core user groups in order to change the operational parameters of its service) and while yes it has become quite clear over the years that CCP is just another company with internal divisions with different viewpoints and priorities I can't agree either that the situation is because of some struggle internal to the company (what company would allow decision points to make decisions on a personal basis without checking the information underneath the decisions). That's all pretty silly in my opinion.

But yes, it is irrelevant unfortunately that the current consequences and situation are not the result of any malicious intent. But they are the result of decisions. And at some point decisions were made in different places at CCP in regards to communications, statements, actions. And those did not match earlier communications, statements, actions. How can it be a surprise that this causes frustration, and thus provides you with a risk of conflict. The responsability for that, in business, lies with the company since it should be and can be expected to be able to observe such trends and prevent culmination of such trends into excess. Why? Because it is exactly that: doing business.

I also have to be honest, CCP did do that in the past, anticipate and deal with such patterns proactively. For whatever reasons, they no longer do that, or it no longer produces results. That is not a black & white picture I should mention, it is a combination of events and patterns and .. decisions over time. But it is still part of doing business. We are all human, and people make mistakes, that is why in business we make sure to guard ourselves against that. For whatever reason, CCP made mistakes there, and then made the mistake of putting it to the test. They challenged their users to vote with their feet. This is one of the things which still shocks me. Why do that? But I guess that is similar to the situation around the leak. What company lets people into its office without checking, or does tours without keeping track of tour participant whereabouts, or lets employees walk out of the building with proprietary material ranging from yearly reports to internal communications and everything in between. I've had two tours there, and I was shocked at how absent any form of security is. With people leaving their terminals wide open and in view, with tours along what should be sensitive material in regards to existing and future product planning, and - indeed - with internal documentation lying around everywhere as well as those newsletters lying around not just at the office, but also in bars in town.

The argument of that having been stated internally only, is in light of the standard interaction between developers and customers, but also in light of CCP's own interactions with local industry & governance a silly argument. CCP and its staff have a strange urge to interact socially (not online, but in the bars) with customers without any consideration of what it can mean to cross boundaries there. Yes, there are players who openly advocate exploiting that, like the CSM chairman this term, but that is still the responsability of the company to guard against that. Instead, anything on the inside shows up on the outside. Including over time the viewpoints of "lolcustomers", "don't hate the player, just shoot him" and "they're terrorists". Statements from well before last year's crisis which were somehow allowed to continue to pollute the waters.

I agree it was unfair. But it was caused. It never fun for anyone of us to find ourselves in a position where we have to think about "but this is our game, what is happening here". Some time ago we were able to see a similar (though not fully comparable) situation with Stardock, leading ultimately to one of the best post mortems done in community, media and public that we have ever seen. When this crisis began, I had honest hope for all sides making the effort to deal constructively with it, but all sides suffored tremendously from an overload of emotional response. Which is understandable, but it does make it harder to deal with the consequences. Yes, it is unfair to those who work hard and give it all they have. But that is a personal and yes painful element. But it still is the responsability of the company to guard and deal with causes, and consequences. Because it is business, and because this is something you owe the people that work for you and because without a strong brand and customers you don't have a business. You have to take care of that, and sometimes that means guarding it against itself, and guarding yourself against yourself and the rest alike.

Posted:3 years ago

#14

Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany

833 668 0.8
"when the players are not acting as a mob, they are some of the most valuable fans a developer could wish for. "

And when a women abuser is not hitting on his wife he is the kindest man in the planet. That statement makes no sense; if you act like that (sending bullets and stuff) to a company all because of a videogame (or warever reason) you are a scumbag that deserves no respect at all.

Posted:3 years ago

#15
My biggest concern for CCP in this move to MT is the one that John Turbefield raised in the leaked CCP Newsletter, Fearless: "As such it is essential that a game is designed from the ground up to incorporate any major virtual goods sales that fall outside of [the subscription/time model vs spending power]."

I don't think maintaining Subscription-based *and* MT-based revenue concurrently is sustainable in the long-term; and I think switching from one to another (especially with the long-running and emotionally-invested playerbase that CCP has in Eve) has a high chance of losing them a large number of their "core" subscribers. The growth in new players might balance this out, of course, but what's happening in Eve isn't particularly core-group friendly.

I should declare an interest here - I'm a reasonably long time Eve player (under the name jnb of Hulk Pvp fame XD) - and so I do have an emotional investment in the game, and my longevity in it stands as my badge of honour as an Eve player. The core community of (the current version of Eve) is very unlike any other game I've played, and we actually founded our games company (Illyriad) using the sandbox depth of gameplay of Eve - as well as the emotional-involvement level that has been fostered within the Eve Community - as a development template.

Massively actually compared us - a 2D, browser-based MT game - to Eve a few months back.

Illyriad was, however, built on a MT business-model from day one. We've been very careful not to allow any "I-win" buttons for purchase, and our vocal playerbase screams anytime we even reach our fingers towards the MT-store, outside of vanity-items. So - even having started from a MT model from Day One - players who are expecting to play a game for a long time still feel very protective of what they earnt (through time-investment ingame, discovery, events etc) vs what a newcomer can simply buy.

John Turbefield has it right. Moving to MT from a subscription model has so many issues regarding game balance and the "fairness" expectation in the existing community, that I strongly believe that an MT game should be built as one from the ground up.

I'm also slightly concerned by the Dust expansion.

Dust 514 is going to be MT, and Dust 514 will interact with the Eve (spaceships) environment - so far sovereignty has been mentioned; and we've also seen trailer footage of planetary defences (in Dust 514) destroying ships (in Eve). So, almost regardless of what CCP ultimately choose to do regarding vanity/non-vanity MT in the Eve (spaceships) environment, there's going to be MT influencing the Eve environment.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by James Niesewand on 8th July 2011 6:59pm

Posted:3 years ago

#16

Patrick McCarthy Lead Automation Engineer, Humana

10 3 0.3
If MY "earned through hard work, making ISK in-game" ship(EVE) ever gets destroyed by a "Look at the kewl BFG516 Anti-Ship gun I bought for $23.95"(DUST) as I pass a planet, CCP and I will have words......

Posted:3 years ago

#17

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